Jenna Petersen, Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor
February 7, 2021
Alright, ladies. It’s time to get real and talk about body image.
Specifically, I want to dig into that all-or-nothing thinking that we often use as a filter for how we view our bodies. We tend to wonder: Am I pretty, or am I ugly? Am I skinny, or am I fat? Am I healthy, or am I unhealthy? Am I too X, or am I too Y?
All of these questions (and others like them) are what I mean by all-or-nothing thinking. You are either pretty or ugly, not both. Skinny or fat. Healthy or unhealthy. X or Y. Never in the middle.
We don’t want to settle for anything less than what we define as “perfect”. Sometimes, we let society define that value of perfect. Sometimes, we let a family member or friend influence our definition of perfect.
I can attest to the detrimental impact of thinking and living in the fear of not being enough specifically in the area of body image. After all, I am a recovering perfectionist. Maybe you are, too. To try to manipulate your body into your idealistic version of the perfect body is not healthy, and usually involves a lot of dieting. I was a dieter in high school and college, mainly for body image reasons. I can tell you that living in the mess of all-or-nothing thinking caused me to enter a world that turned out cold, unforgiving, and lonely. I was skinny, and sad. I still compared myself with other women, and I couldn’t seem to get my mind off of food and my body size.
If you find yourself identifying at all with trying to create the perfect version of your body or thinking in unhealthy ways about your body, you are not alone. This is so common that it was built into the Intuitive Eating framework as Principle 9 – Respect Your Body. At the end of this journey, you may not be able to say that you love your body, but one of our goals is to be able to help you respect your body and fuel it in ways that help you feel good and stay well.
The battle starts in the mind.
Where does your mind go when you notice a physical flaw?
Do you spiral down the path of making those all-or-nothing assumptions about yourself?
Do you determine that you are ugly, fat, and unhealthy? Does that lead you to believe that you are worthless?
If so, I am wondering if you are willing to make a change. Are you willing to step into a new pattern of thinking? You need to decide before I present this option, because it is not an easy hike. It’s uphill. But eventually you WILL reach the summit, and it will be worth the climb. I promise.
Here are 7 key steps that I use to help walk my clients through in conquering those black and white assumptions about body image:
- Identify the appearance assumption(s) you would like to adjust. Write them down.
- Pick one to focus your attention.
- Ask yourself, “Where is this assumption coming from? Why is it here?”
- Determine what impact this assumption has on your life.
- In what ways is this assumption unrealistic, unreal, unreasonable, or unhelpful?
- Think carefully about what might be a more balanced or flexible approach.
- What can you do to put this assumption into practice daily?
These seven steps are one way to get you thinking in the right direction. They are not comprehensive. If you want help applying them to your specific situation, I am happy to provide coaching for you.
Many of your assumptions may have to do with what others think about you. Many of them may have to do with your perceptions of body weight and the stigma that comes from living in a larger body. You may have been stigmatized for your body size by many people over the course of your lifetime. The image below, from the National Eating Disorders Association (neda.org), was created to celebrate Weight Stigma Awareness Week during 2019 and describes all sorts of places that weight stigma occurs. If this image resonates with you, there is hope for healing ahead. I want to be a supporter for you in this journey!
Regardless of who is influencing your body image concerns, the calling for Christian women is to live in the middle of this imperfect life that we have been given. We are not called to embrace all-or-nothing thinking, except where sin is concerned.
To be balanced means we can live in the middle of the tension of all-or-nothing thinking. We need not think of ourselves as ugly or pretty, skinny or fat, unhealthy or healthy, X or Y. We can be who we are. We look how we look. We are the size that we are. We have the health that we have. Embracing all of who you are means embracing God’s design of your body.
Maybe, like me, you have the tendency to beat yourself up because of your imperfections. Something I heard in a sermon this last week was this beautiful concept: “You don’t have you beat yourself up. Jesus was beaten for you.”
Do you believe that?
Is your identity fully rooted and grounded in Jesus?
Can you worship the One who made you fearfully and wonderfully, wherever you are at in your journey?
Do you need some help moving in the right direction?